This post started in March of 2018 as a title, draft, and intention to address gender discrimination. I believe that it is up to the privileged to redistribute our power and bring greater inclusivity and safe places, which will create diverse environments for all. Figure It In is about remembering the harm of compartmentalizing and how to begin including all the puzzle pieces (and people) into the equation. In this situation, my role as the leader of my Returning to Compassion Counseling LLC and Figure It In, LLC businesses was finding a way to bring unisex bathrooms to the building where I rent my offices.
This morning, 13 months later, uni-sex bathrooms are finally a reality throughout the building! I am telling this story to model the conversation on how change happens considering that when I researched non-binary restrooms activism, I didn't find any such posts/blogs/articles that offered this recipe.
Here are the highlights of the process of calling my building manager and owner IN (versus calling them OUT and publicly humiliating them).
Moving in, I realized how ancient the Fine Arts Building was and that like most buildings built in the 1900's, overt discrimination was not the cause of binary restrooms.
It is an amazing financially affordable oasis for alternative care practitioners in the heart of downtown Portland, and I felt like I won the lottery when I moved into my 5th floor office last March.
I started connecting and building relationship with the manager, who seemed like a caring and guarded keeper of a building in a tough location downtown where those who suffer from lacking shelter and other resources wander in to see what they can find.
This was not a permanent solution though, and the situation heated up when I moved to bigger offices downstairs and the manager put signs up to remind my non-binary clients to use the restrooms that matched the gender they were perceived as embodying.
Considering the gender-targeting violence that has been occurring at an increased rate in this city in the last year, I was shocked that anyone would have the gall to put these signs publicly! My team and clients were outraged and I received emails, phone-calls, and had many conversations daily around these signs. The consensus was feelings of deep discomfort and horror at the situation. Solutions were proposed, including using a screwdriver to remove them. However, there are cameras in the halls and so removing the signs, although an impulse, was not an option. I wrote the manager an email, privately, and felt like I was a toothed creature pricking skin ever so slightly for blood. I imagined the response when we are bitten and not expecting it, and prepared for the nauseated knee jerk kick back.
The reply came a few hours later, in repeated phone calls that I could not pick up because I was facilitating a group therapy session that just so happened to center around the suicide of a group member's trans individual friend who had died that weekend. So, hard timing for these door signs to say the least! When the manager couldn't reach me by phone, he wrote it down. I read it after group and felt like acid vomit had been spewed all around me. After the initial shock, I had the surprisingly cheery thought, "better out than in!"
I have blurred out most of the managers response below for a reason. This again, is not about calling him out, as in the end he has done the right thing. Instead, this is about highlighting the method my intuition took after getting through my initial feelings of shame a terror.
I took the one sentence where he proposes a solution and responded to this only in addition to continuing to validate the heartfelt and caring intention behind the man. I let the rest be water under the bridge and never shared it with anyone.
My response came the next morning, and his came 5 minutes later!
There is way more to this story than I have time to explain here. But let me just say that many emails were exchanged and much research and outreaching of local and national experts on this topic was done on my part. Mostly, I received no responses and found very little on negotiating non-binary restrooms. I was afraid of being evicted and had some evidence that this was possible. However, I was more afraid of being evicted and having nothing change around these signs.
My gut just kept saying, "Build the bridge and keep the "tap, tap, tap" of my request gentle and friendly.
This morning, I woke up to this email:
In Summary: I'm so relieved and tearful! This has been quite the exhausting and distressing "Calling In" battle. It started last year when I moved into this building.... with multiple conversations with the manager on my concerns about the binary restrooms. It escalated in February 2019 when these signs were put up on my floor. Then the emails became vitriolic epistles when I protested the signs' outright violence and targeting.
I am grateful to all my outraged clients and team members for the inspiration to bring fiery grace and persist in this campaign... despite veiled threats on eviction for being an unruly tenant.
About the Author
Ruth Diaz, LPC, Psy.D. is a counselor, consultant, and coach on returning to compassionate connection in relationship with ourselves and each other at every level. She works as an organizational psychologist in Portland, Oregon.